Quebec is leading the new wave of contemporary circuses
In Quebec, watching a couple of guys in leotards, playing on swings, caked in makeup is normal. In fact, it’s big business. One of the province’s most famous exports is Cirque du Soleil, which contrary to what some might think, was not born in Las Vegas. Founded in 1984 by a couple of unknown street performers, it has transformed the big top experience from lowbrow entertainment to high art and put Quebec talent on display all over the world. With estimated annual revenues upward of $800 million, it has helped clowning to spawn an entire circus industry in Quebec, where you’ll find North America’s only diploma-granting circus school and companies specializing in niches like big top maintenance. It all makes Barnum & Bailey look like a subdued accounting firm.
Roman Catholicism is stronger in Quebec than any other province
Once referred to as the “Tibet of Catholicism,” for centuries Quebec was a rural, conservative province with a church at the heart of every village. By 1900, there was almost one church official per 100 people (a ratio that makes Starbucks embarrassed). The church’s influence has faded considerably since then, following the Quiet Revolution that secularized the province in the sixties, but it’s still part and parcel of the culture. The province’s spiritual roots are evident in its attitude toward money—most Quebecers believe wealth should be redistributed to those in need, not controlled by the one percent. Mark Twain once remarked that you couldn’t throw a brick in Montreal without breaking a church window, and that’s still the case—it’s just that these days, many of those windows belong to condos in converted churches. And Quebecers continue to invoke the language of the church every day—through the colorful, religion-derived swear words that are an integral part of the local French vernacular. Shout about tabernacles, chalices, ciboriums or hosts, and risk a good old-fashioned Quebec beating … which is really like a regular beating, but most likely in front of a church.